Wide QRS tachycardia in the conscious adult. Ventricular tachycardia is the most frequent cause

JAMA. 1989 Feb 17;261(7):1013-6.


Hemodynamic stability during wide QRS tachycardia is commonly, albeit erroneously, taken as evidence for a supraventricular mechanism. To determine the magnitude for potential misdiagnosis in applying this notion clinically, we analyzed 20 consecutive cases of regular wide QRS tachycardia in conscious adult patients (mean age, 64 years). The most common heart disease was atherosclerotic (75%), with an associated history of remote myocardial infarction in 73% of the cases. Tachycardia was sustained for a mean of 4.8 hours prior to medical evaluation, with a mean rate of 186 beats per minute and mean systolic blood pressure of 111 mm Hg. A diagnosis of ventricular tachycardia (VT) was established in 17 cases (85%). In the patients with VT, atrioventricular dissociation was recognized on the 12-lead electrocardiogram in 38%, with Wellens' morphological features favoring the diagnosis in 73%. Following conversion to sinus rhythm, electrophysiological testing in 17 patients reproduced the clinical arrhythmia in 94% (with a replication rate of 100% in 15 patients with VT), with at least one additional unsuspected VT morphology induced in 53% of patients with VT. Thus, VT should be considered the most likely cause of regular wide QRS tachycardia in the conscious adult patient, especially with a history of remote myocardial infarction. Recognition of this simple principle and careful examination of the 12-lead electrocardiogram may help to prevent the misapplication of pharmacotherapy in the vast majority of these patients.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Heart Ventricles / physiopathology
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction / physiopathology
  • Tachycardia / diagnosis
  • Tachycardia / physiopathology*
  • Tachycardia, Supraventricular / diagnosis